Kristopher Fortin (e.g. Journalist)

Fires Surround Valley

By Kristopher Fortin and Katherine O'Neil for the Daily Sundial
Published on October 14, 2008

A wildfire, fueled by the Santa Ana winds, swiped through the Porter Ranch area Monday morning, causing an unexpected evacuation of the community’s residents.

It is undetermined when the fire will be contained and when the residents will be let back into the Porter Ranch community according to Sgt. Andy Whitman who was stationed at the fire station near Tampa Avenue and Rinaldi Street.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Sesnon Fire burned 5,000 acres, including at least eight structures and killed one person.

Residents were skeptical at the severity of the fire until it spilled over the Santa Susana Range and burned toward the Porter Ranch homes.

Porter Ranch resident Jude Lee said that everything was fine when she left home at 9:30 a.m. and returned to a terrifying scene.

‘I came back to see hell next to my house,’ Lee said.

Police provided residents with assistance, yet they were proved difficult when they were asked to grant access to some civilians to their homes.

‘We are escorting people up if there’re children (and) family,’ Whitman said.


Rena Lynn and Delfin San Jose, Porter Ranch residents who left work from Hollywood when they saw the fire spread to Porter Ranch, said their kids were at home with their grandmother when the community began to evacuate. Delfin San Jose said’ the police made it difficult to let him into his home.

Shepherd of the Hills Church was used as an evacuation center for evacuees in the Porter Ranch fires.

The American Red Cross, Wal-Mart, State Farm Insurance, and U-haul provided donations and services along with local restaurants that served food to the community.

Residents were spread throughout the church, outside and inside. Some were just glad they have made it out safely.

‘I don’t care what I left behind me, it can all be replaced,’ said Alicia Gelpi, an evacuee of the Porter Ranch fire. Gelpi’s grandson, Bill Gelpi, said he is not worried.

‘I have a lot of faith in out firemen, I know they are doing the best of their abilities,’ he said.
Other residents were at a state of panic and anger.

‘I need to get my passport from my house,’ said Samira Al-Hafiz, a visitor from Russia. ‘I don’t care what cops tell me, I’m walking up there,’ Samira said.’ ‘

Red Cross volunteer and adjunct CSUN professor, Craig Renetzky, was working at Shepherd of the Hills Church shelter.

‘This is a great facility that is open to the public to meet their needs, we are expecting a lot of evacuees to come here tonight,’ Renetzky said.

Shepherd of the Hills Church is the closest evacuation center to the Porter Ranch evacuated community. All the services that were offered were free of charge.

‘They even have showers if evacuees want to enjoy that,’ Rentezky said.

One of the organizers of the evacuation center was Pastor Tim Winter.

‘We called (the police) if they needed any help,’ Winter said.

Ricardo Hung, a Harbor area director for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, said as of Monday night, 418 people were registered at the evacuation center and 700 meals were provided.

‘(It) doesn’t look like people were going back home tonight’hellip;People are making arrangements with families and friends to stay overnight,’ Hung said.

‘As long as there is a need, we’ll keep it open,’ said David Roberts, a Red Cross volunteer.

Mike Johnson, a volunteer of the church, said that all the help and support was received from family members who attended that church or who just want to be part of this hard time.

The Sesnon fire coincided with the Marek fire in the northeast end of the valley that began early Sunday.

The 118 freeway opened Monday evening after being closed most of the day because of the Sesnon gire.

E-mails and phone calls were sent out to CSUN students and a press release was posted on the CSUN website notifying students of cancelled classes.

Signs were also posted on the doors of classrooms saying classes were cancelled.

http://sundial.csun.edu/2008/10/firessurroundvalley/